School lunch benefit cards being distributed by mail

Benefit cards for public school students who missed out on free or reduced-price school meals when school closed in March have begun to arrive. This photo has been altered to conceal identifying information. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — Benefit cards for public school students who missed out on free or reduced-price school-provided meals when schools closed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic have begun to arrive in the mail.

The state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance announced in May that eligible households would receive a maximum of $420 per child through the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program, which will allow users to buy food to make up for free or reduced-price meals that they would have received had schools remained open.

Any student who was receiving a free or reduced-price meal is eligible for the benefit and will automatically receive a temporary benefit card in the mail. Families do not have to apply for the program. About 1.3 million children living in households enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, receiving Temporary Assistance benefits or Medicaid will automatically receive the additional assistance through their existing EBT cards.

According to OTDA, about 2.1 million children throughout the state were receiving free and reduced-price meals before all school districts were closed starting on March 16. Under Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s direction, OTDA requested that the U.S. Department of Agriculture provide food benefits to households with children who temporarily lost access to these meals due to pandemic-related school closures. The federal Families First Act authorized states to apply for federal approval to operate Pandemic EBT programs.

Like regular SNAP benefits, Pandemic EBT benefits can be used to purchase food at authorized retail food stores. New Yorkers enrolled in SNAP can also use their benefits to purchase groceries online. The cards will be good for up to a year from issuance or until the benefit amount is exhausted.

The benefits cannot be donated or transferred. People who receive the benefit cards but who do not want to use them are asked to shred and discard them in a secure manner.

The OTDA said in May that $880 million in food assistance was being made available through the program.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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